Special Merit

The Bears are not a flashy team. The squad is built around a solid defense and controlling the clock. Therefore, field position is that much more critical for Chicago.

Last season Brad Maynard had a pro bowl caliber averaging 42.5 yards per punt with a 37 yard net. Leon Johnson did an admirable job as the punt returner (9.1 yards average), but was never a real threat to break a long return. The same could be said of the Bears kick return game. Johnson and Autry Denson shared the duties in 2001 with the longest run back being just 37 yards.

That's where Ahmad Merritt can make an impact.

The 25-year-old has sprinter type speed and returned kicks and punts in his collegiate days at Wisconsin. He proved he has big play potential in the Bears 34-19 playoff loss to the Eagles. Merritt took the ball on a reverse and beat the Philadelphia defense down the sideline for a 47-yard score, which gave Chicago a short lived 7-6 lead.

Despite spending the majority of the 2001 campaign on the practice squad Merritt was on the field during critical points, which has made him sure he can play on this level.

"Of course you're going to have a little more confidence," Merritt said. "I ended up strong last year you know I have little bit to build on and I have a lot bigger role this year than I did in previous years."

With the Bears depth at receiver Merritt will have to get the majority of his playing time through special teams.

"Special teams is going to be big for me this year," Merritt said. "I'm excited about that I think it's fun to be out there on special teams. You're on the field and that's ultimately what you want is to be on the field and contribute."

Merritt, who is a native of Chicago, has been working all off-season at Halas Hall on his return techniques in order to be ready for the season ahead.

Bears special teams coach Mike Sweatman stresses the fact that it's only June and there's a long way to go before anyone wins a job.

"We have him back there and we're working with him and we'll see if he can contribute.

Sweatman knows Merritt has the speed and elusiveness to make defenders miss, but that's not necessarily the most important responsibility as a return man.

"Number one you have to have the confidence of the head coach in that you have the ability to catch the ball and not put it on the ground," Sweatman said.

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